Monday, August 19, 2013

The Over Powerful Fifth Ward and How It Began

Last February, the Common Council adopted the new weighted vote, based on the 2010 census and impacted by the New York State law, passed in August 2010, requiring prisoners to be counted, for legislative purposes, in the communities where they were living prior to becoming prisoners instead of in the communities where they were incarcerated. The big winners in the new weighted vote were the aldermen from the Fifth Ward, whose weighted votes in a simple majority went from 278 to 364 each. Whereas before, the vote of an alderman from the Fifth Ward was 2.957 times more powerful than that of an alderman from the First Ward or the Fourth Ward, it is now 3.831 times more powerful. Put another way, an affirmative vote cast by an alderman representing the First Ward or the Fourth Ward represents a little more than 9 percent of the total votes needed for a simple majority, whereas an affirmative vote cast by one of the aldermen from the Fifth Ward represents 36 percent of the votes needed for a simple majority.

Various plans have been suggested to give more equity in representation. In 2003, there was a referendum on a proposal to eliminate the weighted vote by replacing the wards with election districts of equal population, whose boundaries would be redrawn after every decennial census. The referendum was defeated, probably in part because people feared microcosmic gerrymandering and also because there was, particularly with residents of the original part of the city, a reluctance to do away with the old ward boundaries that have existed for two centuries.

The Hudson Democrats have made eliminating or rebalancing the weighted vote a plank in their 2013 platform. Democratic mayoral candidate Victor Mendolia has suggested that an easy way to achieve better balance would be to create a Sixth Ward by dividing the Fifth Ward into two wards using the current election district boundaries.

This review of the weighted vote is by way of introducing another discovery made over the weekend: this item, which appeared in the Hudson Daily Evening Register for April 30, 1886, soon after the creation of the Fifth Ward. The text is transcribed below.


The Additional Ward for Hudson.
Now that the bill creating an additional Ward for this city has become law, there is much inquiry as to how and when the law goes into effect. The Act provides that--
"At the annual election for city and ward officers to be held in said city on the first Tuesday of December, eighteen hundred and eighty-six, there shall be elected in said Fifth Ward, one alderman to serve for the term of one year, from the first day of January next succeeding his election, and one alderman to serve for the term of two years from such first day of January, and thereafter the alderman annually elected in said ward shall serve for the term of two years from the first day of January next succeeding his election. * * * There shall be elected in said Fifth ward, at the annual election for city and ward officers, to be held in said city on the first Tuesday of December, eighteen hundred and eight-six, and annually thereafter, one supervisor, who shall serve for said ward." 
While it is not entirely clear, it seems that the Fifth Ward may have started out having only one alderman, who was elected first, in an even year, to a one-year term, so he could get on the same cycle as the rest of the aldermen, who were, as they still are today, elected at the end of an odd year to start their two-year terms at the beginning of an even year. One alderman from the Fifth Ward may have been a way of achieving representation proportionate to population, since in 1886, the Fifth Ward was definitely more sparsely populated than the other wards. This map of the Fifth Ward is from the 1888 Beers Atlas.

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